I’m 95% sure that our A.C./heating units are broken. Correct: No central air. The bedroom is set to 61 degrees, but I woke up last night in a panic, suffocating from the fire that was my own skin, and proceeded to strip off my clothes so fast that you’d think Aaron…well, I won’t go there. My dad reads this blog. Anyway, then there’s the living room, which is set to 77 degrees, but I’m currently on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, wearing wool socks, a sweatshirt, and a heavy scarf. I’m exposing my hands to the elements only so that I can type. You’re welcome.
The problem is that I still haven’t managed to clean our apartment to a point that I’d feel comfortable letting our landlord inside to take a look at the faulty machines. Besides my basic pride that would be crushed by anyone laying eyes on the disaster, our landlord also happens to be my dad’s private Spanish teacher (random, I’m aware), so I don’t want word to get back to him that his hija es muy inmundo. (Dad, if you’re reading this, it’s uh, really not that bad…) If worse comes to worse, I can always throw on my 80lb wedding dress that’s currently draped over some boxes near the window. That should keep me warm. Or maybe I should just continue cleaning…as my mom always said, “If you’re cold, come help me in the kitchen.” Solid advice, which I never, ever took.
So, now that you know everything you need to know about the state of my apartment (exciting stuff), I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about red flags in relationships. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I do have my fair share of experience pre-Aaron. Plus I just finished lunch with a girlfriend I haven’t seen in a few years, and she told me that her ex-boyfriend, whom she moved halfway across America to be with, cheated on her with a stripper. Come on, pal. At least keep it interesting. A stripper? That’s like cheating with your secretary. Give me a break. [Disclaimer: All cheating is bad, occupations aside.]
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my single-days dating strategy was to “cast a wide net.” From age 18-26, I had in the range of 10-15 exclusive “relationships” (title included for only 3) that lasted anywhere from one month to two years. Each one taught me a ton about myself and what I wanted from a significant other– both the good and the bad. I think it’s why I knew so quickly that Aaron was The One.
Many, if not all of you have probably gone through a break up. They’re never fun, whether you’re the instigator or the victim. Even if you both know that “it’s just not right,” you always wish you could have seen the ending coming from the beginning. It would’ve been nice to have been spared the heartbreak, or even simply the time. Learning from and enjoying someone for a while can be great and all, but the real goal is to learn from and enjoy someone without end.
Sometimes it’s not at the very beginning of a relationship, but there is always some sort of opportunity to realize someone isn’t right for you– long before you become totally miserable or indifferent. The easy, happy stages are actually when we ignore red flags the most. This makes sense, given that we’d rather enjoy the high of new attraction than accept concerns that are often abstract, or just “pesky” intuition. After all, no one is perfect, right? This is great on paper, right? Relationships are about compromise, right? This fear of the future is just paranoia, right?
With most failed relationships, we can look back and pinpoint all of the reasons it never would have worked in the long run with those people. The person I was *convinced* was “my person” a year before meeting Aaron was a sports junkie (me: go sports, do the thing, win the points), didn’t particularly like the outdoors (um), and couldn’t talk about his feelings to save his life (have you met me..?). He didn’t want me to meet his parents, was always “jokingly” threatening the future of our relationship, and didn’t want to get to know my friends. Naturally I made up good excuses for all of those things, so I was *surprised* when he nonchalantly ended things at a bar “out of the blue” in front of nearly everyone we knew, the night before we were supposed to honor my mother’s memory at a fundraising walk for bladder cancer. Not his finest choice…but I probably could have avoided all of the pain and embarrassment had I not ignored the red flags in favor of my emotions.
I have too many stories similar to the example above, not just from my own life, but from basically every person I know. For instance, many people don’t know that Aaron was engaged almost 9 years ago, but the wedding never came to fruition. For years, he wore rose-colored glasses, even ignoring a memorable twinge of “Why do I kind of wish I could get out of this thing…?” before proposing, but was so invested in what he had pictured for their future that he kept his plans. Over the years, there were ample red flags and warnings from friends and family, but– like so many of us do– he continued to try to make things work. Because of the idealization– similar to when my ex “abruptly” ended things at the bar– Aaron was *surprised* when things culminated with his ex having relations with not one, but two other men while they were on vacation together. That ending was coming a mile away, but relationships are addicting, so we ignore the flags until they slap us across the face. And sometimes we ignore them then, too.
Side note: I checked with Aaron that I could share his story as a lesson for readers, and he agreed. I lerve him.
Even if things aren’t glaringly obvious like in those examples, red flags can still exist. I remember not being able to visualize someday standing at the altar with my longterm college boyfriend, but I was so set on the idea of marrying him that we just kept going and going until the red flags– you guessed it– slapped us both in the face. Neither of us stabbed each other in the heart with a final low blow, but all the little issues in our relationship eventually washed ashore in one giant wave. We broke up after 2.5 years, he fell in love with someone else less than a month later (to whom he’s now engaged), and I basically grew into a completely different person within a few weeks. (Why I changed so much is a different story for a different time.)
To reference yet another story, one of my best friends was absolutely heartbroken when her live-in boyfriend broke up with her a few years ago. He gave her no warning, refused to talk about his decision at length, and simply stated “something is off.” At the time, she was horribly confused and devastated. Now, she looks back and sees all of the flags that she ignored until he “abruptly” left her. He didn’t have strong preferences or pursuits, while she’s a very engaged, passionate person. His family seemed to disapprove of her ethnicity, so he never wanted to take pictures together. Their general social interests didn’t align. The list goes on and on (as they always do), proving that red flags are always there– no matter how subtle.
Before relationships get messy, we have the choice to listen to the inkling that the person won’t make us happy down the road. Instead, many of us choose to convince ourselves that the heart matters more than the mind, the mind matters more than the heart, red flags are just bumps in the roads, or we need to change in order for things to get better. None of it is true. The mind matters as much as the heart (and vice versa), red flags wave for a reason, and changing is only beneficial when it’s not motivated by getting another person to love you.
Most of us look back at failed relationships with gratitude that they ended. We can see all of the reasons why they were wrong, even if we couldn’t see them at the time. I don’t hold anything against my exes who ended things– even the ones who broke my heart– because, while most of them couldn’t verbalize their reasoning, or perhaps chose the wrong venue, they decided to listen to the red flags. I hope the ones I’ve ended things with feel the same, because we’ll all end up (and some of us already have) with people that make us a whole lot happier, healthier, and able to move through life with far more ease. I mean– come on, how could I end up with someone who doesn’t like wine?? What was I thinking??
Now that I’m in a relationship where red flags simply don’t exist, I can say wholeheartedly that it’s worth waiting for the right person. That’s not to say that there won’t be bumps along the way, but bumps are different from flags…and usually, you can use your friends and family to help you tell the difference. 🙂
I can’t possibly write this post without providing a little list of red flags. Take a look at them, and remember that just because someone isn’t right for you, doesn’t mean they’re a horrible person (though sometimes they might do horrible things…or have a lot of room to grow when it comes to how they treat people). Instead, it just means you haven’t found the right person yet. Someone who will bring out the best in you…and vice versa. Someone who makes life easy, not tumultuous. Someone who captures your mind, heart, logic, and emotions equally, with careful consideration and respect for your wellbeing.
- If one of you has the power (i.e. decides when you see each other, how often, and where your relationship “stands”)
- If the thought of forever with them doesn’t sit well with you– with or without good reason
- If you constantly make excuses for their behavior
- If your friends and family are wary of the person
- If you convince yourself that you’re changing to be better, when really you’re changing for them
- If you don’t know anything about their spiritual life
- If you are never satisfied with them
- If you cry or feel frustrated more often than you feel happy
- If your happy times with them are like a drug– something you crave and live for (steady happiness is much better, trust me– and it can still be passionate)
- If you know you don’t want the same things for your future (family, lifestyles, etc.)
- If you don’t miss them very much
- If they don’t miss you very much
- If their friends aren’t people you respect
- If you don’t think they’re gorgeous/handsome (sounds shallow, but attraction is very important)
- If you don’t enjoy the same things (at least a majority of things!)
- If they don’t like wine. 😉
Of course there are exceptions, and some people have experienced things on this list, only to find that the person they are with is the person with whom they’ll be happiest. But in general, let people speak with their actions, and use your gut and your brain. (Usually one is stronger than the other when things aren’t right.)
Finally, let’s all remember that most exes aren’t horrible people. Your chemical makeup just didn’t bring out their best, and vice versa. Sure, some people may have further to go in their journey towards being kind and morally/ethically sound, but we’ve all hurt people and done things we regret. Make the hard, yet wise choice to listen to red flags, but in turn, try not to harbor resentment.
This was a long one, I know, but I want to end by making it clear that I was the worst at at moving on, and flip-flopped between trying to be too buddy-buddy with exes vs. harboring resentment bred by hurt. But that’s why I have so many stories to offer and advice to give! Take advantage of my mistakes and use this post about red flags as one big white flag– offering peace towards your own soul if you know you need to end something, towards someone who ended things with you, and towards the people who make your ex happier now or made your current partner discontented in the past. We all have plenty to offer, and have made plenty of mistakes, so lets pay attention to the red flags, but wave a new, prettier white one.